Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Wincing the Night Away by The Shins

You rarely hear about a difficult third album. So often music writers toss around such a label for a band's sophomore release, a sure sign that the heady days of a successful debut record are over. From their days in Alberquerque (that's right, the place Bugs Bunny should have turned left at), the Shins have come along way; their debut Oh, Inverted World was a critical, if not commercial hit which didn't receive its much-deserved attention until two things happened. One was Natalie Portman. Describing 'New Slang' from that record as a song that will 'change your life' in The Shin's number one fan Zach Braff's directorial debut Garden State (he also used it in an episode of Scrubs he directed) unveiled the band to the oh-so-hip indie scene and beyond. The other was the all time classic, piece of guitar pop genius second long player, Chutes Too Narrow. Now they were everywhere. And now people expected solid gold. Hence Wincing the Night Away, The Shins' third release, comes with the burden of expectation placed upon it by that most demanding segment of the music listening public.
And it frankly does sound like main man James Mercer has laboured under this pressure while producing Wincing the Night Away. That's not to say that it's a bad record: certainly not. There are songs here as good as any from Chutes Too Narrow, namely the oh-so-hummable lead single 'Phantom Limb' (apparently about two lesbians, although no-one on Earth would know that had Mercer not said so in an interview) and the upbeat banjo-toting 'Australia', while opener 'Sleeping Lessons' has a tempo change at just the right time to kick off the album. However, the record reeks of having tried just a little bit too hard; most notably the overt synthy-ness, which, while occasionally useful, seems like it was done purely so Wincing would not be accused of being Chutes Too Narrow II.
The Shins are still a great band, and this is a very good record, and it stacks up against pretty much anything around right now. Except Chutes Too Narrow. Must be difficult.
3 stars

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At 7:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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